Study methods set for revamp
Drastic changes needed at all levels: Education MinisterNew teaching and learning methodologies are being developed as part of education reform to prepare and equip students for the world they will encounter in the future, Deputy Prime Minister and Education Minister Phongthep Thepkanjana said in an exclusive interview with Nation Group.
"Education development is a long-term process; we cannot look for a quick fix. That's the reason most political parties actually focus on other tasks that have faster outcomes. Right now, the Education Ministry needs to make drastic changes to the education system at all levels, otherwise we will be letting down future generations of students. The Pheu Thai Party-led government, particularly Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, can be said to have taken these calls seriously," said the minister.
However, Phongthep said the process of education reform would be different from past efforts, with a more practical and effective approach being taken. The ministry would prioritise curriculum reform, testing, academic performance assessment, admissions, teaching quality and student load in the classroom, not structure.
Curriculum content for the kindergarten, primary, secondary and undergraduate levels would be revised. In the traditional approach, students have mainly been taught in the form of rote learning, in which they sit and passively listen to the teachers. This is unsuitable for the younger generation if it is to compete in the present-day global society.
Hence, the ministry needs to develop a new approach, nurturing engaged students to learn critical thinking, creative thinking and problem-solving skills.
The new curriculum and teaching system is aimed at improving the quality of interaction between teachers and learners, so that the latter can be more engaged in learning and achieve better education outcomes.
A sub-committee chaired by Special Professor Phavit Thongrot, the senior adviser to the education minister, is now working on curriculum reform and improvement of student textbook quality. The new curriculum is expected to be complete in the next six to eight months.
According to the new method, Phongthep said, different approaches should be used for students at each level. From kindergarten to the upper primary levels, he said, the curriculum should emphasise language and communications skills, which are fundamental to achieving at higher study levels. "Brain-based learning" will also be applied.
For the secondary level, students will be allowed greater opportunities to select subjects in which they have an interest. For example, general subjects like Thai and world history would be compulsory, but in-depth studies in certain subjects can be chosen as electives by interested students. Moreover, study of history must lead to analysis and learning so that it can be applied in real life, the minister said.
In addition, emphasis will be placed on skills deemed essential for Thai people by bringing current social problems, including those relating to the democratic process, into the draft curriculum, as creativity and ICT (information and communications technology) skills are needed.
Phongthep said the student load in the classroom is another crucial factor in determining student quality. At present, secondary students in Thailand study 1,200 hours per academic year and primary students study 1,000 hours. Thai students spend more time studying than their counterparts in many countries such as Hong Kong, Singapore, Japan and South Korea, but they know less.
UNESCO recommends about 800 hours per year. The Singapore government initiated a "Teach Less, Learn More" programme in 2006. The programme helps teachers and schools focus on the fundamentals of effective teaching, so that students are engaged, learn with understanding, and are developed holistically, beyond merely preparing for tests and examinations.
"We aim to reduce the curriculum load on the students to 800 hours a year, so that students will be able to learn more through activities out of the classroom. This will provide students with the time to take part in learning activities that will help them to think more critically and creatively."
Meanwhile, higher education institutions would be required to produce students in response to the demands of the workforce. In addition to developing the country's human resources, the forthcoming launch of the Asean Economic Community in 2015 is added impetus for the revision.
In an effort to cater to workforce demand trends, the ministry aims to increase the ratio of vocational to general academic students at the secondary level from 35:65 to 50:50. This will produce sufficient numbers of graduates with technical skills and knowledge.
In addition, the ministry will provide more support for vocational colleges. For example, the ministry will sign a collaboration agreement with giant German firms including BMW and Porsche to provide workplace training for vocational students.
Phongthep said institutions that provide teaching programmes have to be concerned more with demand, both at present and in the future. The government will identify a clearer picture of demand in each field to reduce oversupply and increase the number of teachers to solve shortages in some fields such as science and English. Pre-qualification assessment for undergraduates who want to study teaching programmes will also be implemented as a mechanism to improve the quality of teachers. The assessment of teacher performance standards will also be determined. At present, performance assessment is based on academic standing, which does not truly reflect the quality of teaching.
Currently, there are over 50,000 teachers in the education system nationwide, and there is redundancy in supply with about 400,00 graduates coming out of the system. Meanwhile, another 250,000 students are in the pipeline of the Teachers' Council of Thailand (Khurusapha).